At the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 21st through 24th, in its 57th year, you can hear Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Marcus Miller, Christian McBride and Michael Feinstein. What a lineup. And this appears to be the only festival that Hancock is playing this year.
Don’t feel too jealous, Kansas City. The least expensive tickets that will get you into every show there start at $415.00. Plus another hundred bucks for a three day parking pass.
I’ve griped that Kansas City today is mired in minor jazz festivals. And we are. But when you consider Kansas City’s total scene – the series at The Folly and The Gem, special shows at The Blue Room – over the course of a year we have the opportunity to hear mostly comparable talent. And we're not paying $515 including parking to hear them.
Last year, the Kansas City 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival (still winner of the country’s longest name for a jazz festival) charged a measly $10 for an advance ticket and $25 at the gate. The Prairie Village Jazz Festival was free.
We’re in the midst of jazz festival season and, at a time area festivals have yet to announce their lineups, we can see who other festivals are booking in 2014.
Fewer are headlining names you’d be reaching to call jazz.
The Capital Jazz Fest (held June 6 - 8, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.) bills itself as the jazz festival with soul. It headlined Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, John Legend, Peabo Bryson and The O’Jays. It also sneaked in Diane Reeves and Stanley Clarke, so there was a little legitimate jazz. But there’s no reason to think they’re going to change. An advance ticket for the entire festival cost $200, and two of the three days sold out.
Meanwhile, the Hampton Jazz Festival, in its 46th year in Hampton, Virginia (June 27 - 29; $220 for 3 days) headlines Chaka Khan, Toni Braxton and The O’Jays (who’d have guessed Chaka Khan and the O’Jays would be such popular jazz acts this year), plus Spyro Gyra and Midy Abair to sort of justify the word jazz in the festival name.
And while we’re talking jazz festivals with non-jazz headliners, we might as well mention the mother of all music festivals, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 25 - May 4). With headliners like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Christina Aguilera, Phish and Santana, this event has clearly outgrown its jazz roots. But with a schedule that also included Chick Corea, Pharoah Sanders, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Branford Marsalis, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Trombone Shorty, neither has it forgotten its roots. Tickets were $110 in advance or $140 at the gate. VIP Passes with Gold Circle Seating at each stage, at $900, sold out.
However, these exceptions aside, most jazz festivals this year are featuring genuine jazz acts.
The most overwhelming list of names last year was at the Detroit Jazz Festival. This year’s event, their 34th year, covers several city blocks in downtown Detroit on August 29 - September 1, and is free. Among the headliners: Joshua Redman, Phil Woods, Cyrus Chestnut, Regina Carter, Ramsey Lewis with John Pizzarelli, Dianne Schurr, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Pharoah Sanders, Nicholas Payton, Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Lou Donaldson, Randy Weston and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. However, Chrysler has ended its $200,000 annual sponsorship of the festival (article here), which is likely to make a profound difference next year.
The same weekend, the free Chicago Jazz Festival this year features Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tootie Heath, Terrence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane, Gary Burton, Dave Holland with Kevin Eubanks and the Sun Ra Arkestra.
The Newport Jazz Festival celebrates its 60th anniversary on August 1 - 3 in Newport, Rhode Island with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dave Holland, Gary Burton, Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer, Dr. John, Ron Carter, Lee Konitz Quartet with Grace Kelly, Dick Hyman, Ravi Coltrane, Kurt Rosenwinkel, the Mingus Big Band, Trombone Shorty, David Sanborn and the Brubeck Brothers. A 3 day pass starts at $155 (plus $39 for parking).
The Playboy Jazz Festival at Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl (June 14 and 15) featured Kenny Barron with Ravi Coltrane, Diane Reeves, Dr. Lonnie Smith, a George Duke Tribute with Al Jarreau and Stanley Clarke, George Benson with Earl Klugh, Jon Batiste and James Cotton. Tickets started at an amazingly reasonable $39 per day.
In Indianapolis, Indiana, the Indy Jazz Fest (September 11 -20) puts acts in various venues with a separate charge for each show, ranging from free to $57. Announced acts include Alan Toussaint, Ramsey Lewis, Diane Schurr, Eddie Palmieri and Ravi Coltrane.
Some of these festivals showcase enviable lineups. But many are at decidedly unenviable prices. And while Detroit’s free festival looks awesome, I can assure you, as a festival organizer, a $200,000 sponsorship is a unique situation that will buy you awesome.
I have no idea who will headline this year’s 18th and Vine event. I can tell you that I am genuinely excited about this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival lineup (I’m booking it), which we hope to announce in July. However, it does not include any of the names mentioned above.
Sorry, jazz fans. Chaka Khan will not be playing Prairie Village, Kansas this year.